Former Park Resembles Iowa
YOSEMITE, CA—In a move that caught park officials by surprise, Interior Secretary James Watt this morning destroyed Yosemite National Park with an earthquake. Watt ordered the earthquake after President Ronald Reagan directed him to “trim the fat” from the National Park Budget. The Interior Secretary reportedly resisted the move until it became clear that the only alternative was to cancel the Interior Department’s “Your Friend the Bulldozer” film series, now shown in all the nation’s elementary schools.
According to informed sources, this is the first time a cabinet officer has destroyed a national park.
Watt decided on the unusual action because Yosemite is worthless, with no known oil or mineral deposits. In addition...
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Okay, someone named James Watt didn’t destroy Yosemite. But in the early years of Ronald Reagan’s administration, it wasn’t hard to imagine that a fellow with the same name might have enjoyed doing so. James Watt served as Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior for three years, from January 1981 to November 1983, when he was forced to resign after making the following comment about the people he had chosen to serve on his coal advisory commission: “We have every kind of mixture you can have,'' he said. ''I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.'' [i]
That was merely the last in a lengthy series of controversial and sometimes boneheaded actions and statements that embarrassed the Right and energized the Left during Watt’s short reign. He had no interest in preserving wildlands. “We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber,” he promised. He outlined a 20-year plan for opening 80 million acres of undeveloped land in the U.S. to drilling and mining, and released a billion acres of coastal waters for oil exploration. The aggregate of public lands leased for coal mining quintupled during Watt’s three years at Interior. [ii]
Widely quoted for his boast, “I don’t like to paddle and I don’t like to walk,” Watt determined to prove to opponents that he was actually a big fan of wilderness. So it was that in June 1981 he signed up for a seven-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon. ''The first day was spectacular,” he later reported. “The second day started to get a little tedious, but the third day I wanted bigger motors to move that raft out. On the fourth day we were praying for helicopters and they came.'' Commented Nathanial Reed in the New York Times: “It speaks volumes that Mr. Watt is the first Interior Secretary to find the Grand Canyon boring.” [iii]
Watt’s clumsiness extended far beyond his ham-handedness with environmental issues. Each Fourth of July from 1980 through 1982, the Beach Boys and the Grass Roots performed at concerts on the National Mall in the nation’s capital. Because activities on the Mall fall under the aegis of the Department of the Interior, Watt had the final say on who would headline the 1983 event. It was generally assumed that the Beach Boys and the Grass Roots would be invited back for their fourth Fourth of July gig. Instead, Watt pulled their invitations, averring that the bands had encouraged drug and alcohol use at their three previous concerts. Moreover, they had attracted “the wrong element,” namely, bad guys intent on robbing people. Watt preferred a “wholesome” concert. That’s why Wayne Newton headlined the 1983 concert. [iv]
Somewhere in the midst of all this jolliness, having decided that the public could use an irreverent and properly mindless satire of Watt and his antics, I wrote and self-published a four-page send-up of the Secretary that I called “Watt’s News.” These priceless treasures I sold around the Bay Area, where I lived at the time. Price: $1.50. “Watt Destroys Yosemite!” with which this blog opened, headlined page 1. The rest of the paper was pretty hard on poor Mister Watt. I was careful to include the President in some of the stories, along with some of the cabinet members and representatives of wealth and privilege who hung out with Reagan during his years in the White House.
Watt Outlines Park History
WASHINGTON—Interior Secretary James Watt today laid to rest the notion that the nation’s national park system is more than 100 years old. In an address to the board of directors of the Exxon Corporation, Watt said that the national parks were created during the 1960s by radicals and hippies.
“Twenty years ago there were no national parks,” said Watt. “That was an era of sensible resource inventory and management, when the public lands were used for the benefit of all the people. Then the yippies and the potheads created the national parks. Someone told me that ideological eunuchs were also involved.”
Watt said that the first national park was Yellowstone, created by Jane Fonda in 1965. It was followed in quick succession by Grand Canyon (Abbie Hoffman, 1966), Yosemite (Timothy Leary, 1966), and Glacier (Malcolm X, 1967). All of the parks are used by revolutionaries as bases for waging guerrilla war against the United States,
Exxon board member Lamont von Lamont thanked Watt for the history lesson, which he described as “eye-opening” and “peachy keen.” Lamont said that he had always suspected that something like this lay behind the creation of the national parks, but that until now he had believed that Gloria Steinem was responsible. He proposed that since the parks have such a sordid history, perhaps it is time for a fresh beginning. One way this could be achieved would be by turning the parks over to the oil companies.
“That way,” said Lamont, “the nation could move on to a greater tomorrow, an era of working together for the common good and searching for oil.”
Answering charges that the petroleum industry is benefiting from the energy crisis at the public’s expense, Lamont said that Exxon has no interest in profits, and that all company executives are volunteers who work for free. He stressed that Exxon’s only goals are for old people to eat well and for little kids not to get polio.
Lamont explained that Exxon plows $800 zillion a year into polio research. He theorized that a cure for polio might lie in the bedrock beneath Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park (Charles Manson, 1967), and said that in the national interest, long, descending metal probes should be inserted into the park’s soil to get at the cure.
Watt said that this was a good idea and promised to look into it.
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Postscript (This actually happened!)
In 1995, former Secretary of the Interior James Watt was indicted on twenty-five counts of felony perjury and obstruction of justice by a federal grand jury. The charge: Making false statements before a grand jury investigating influence peddling at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Watt had lobbied during his years in Washington. Watt pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of withholding documents from the grand jury. He was sentenced to five years probation, fined $5000, and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. [v]
In a future blog I’ll profile Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a man whose agenda is reminiscent of that of James Watt, but whose manner and methods are far more sophisticated that those of the former Secretary.
Future blogs will end with excerpts from the late, lamented Watt’s News.
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[ii] “The Legacy of James Watt,” Time, 24 October 1983
[iv] "Watt Sets Off Uproar with Music Ban,” The Washington Post, 7 April 1983
[v] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-03-12/news/9603130319_1_interior-secretary james-watt-controversial-members-grand-jury